It was an idea that seemed simple enough. We would build a chicken coop next to our existing barn and add a few chickens to 1840 Farm. How hard could it be? As it turned out, incredibly hard.
First we needed to decide what kind of structure to build. Chicken ark? Chicken tractor? Chicken coop? Everyone we talked to had a different opinion. One friend who had owned chickens for several years told us that a tractor was the only option that we should consider. She felt strongly that a chicken tractor and some free ranging time for the chicks was the best way to proceed. Then we started searching the Web for articles about coop construction, including the pages of Grit and the Community Chickens forum. It seemed that once again, everyone had a distinct opinion. Trouble was, we didn’t have any idea which one to listen to.
A portable ark or tractor was appealing. I could almost picture myself moving my happy flock around the farm from one sunny spot to another. That was until I remembered that I live in New England and we are trapped under a very thick blanket of snow for a good portion of each year. Unless I was going to invest in a snowmobile, moving the coop around in the winter probably wasn’t our best option.
So, we made the decision to move forward with a traditional coop. We weren’t sure if it was the right decision, but we forged ahead. We settled on a general plan for the exterior of the coop and worked back from there. At one point, we drew the shape of the coop on the driveway using my son’s sidewalk chalk. We added our wish list for a dozen nest boxes with exterior access, a large clean out door, a ramp leading to the pen that would lie underneath the coop, etc. We soon realized that fitting in all of our amenities wasn’t going to be easy.
I contacted my local planning and zoning department and found out that we could have chickens and even roosters if we wanted. The only catch was that we adhere to a simple requirement regarding the location of the permanent coop with regard to our property line. Out we went in the rain with a tape measure to determine where the coop could be added.
Once our measuring was complete, we had settled on the area of our garden that is adjacent to the existing circa 1840 barn. It was currently being used as our eggplant patch which seemed fitting. Where was today an eggplant bed would soon become a bed for our egg-laying hens.
Then the hard work began. We started digging the footings and framing the coop in August. We finally finished the coop last week. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that it would have taken us so long to finish the construction. I guess that I should have known better. We were making our own building plan, using recycled materials, and working on the coop in our free time. I didn’t even mention the days of unending rain that came along at the most inconvenient times or the heat wave that hit just as we were preparing to shingle the roof.
In the end, the coop turned out better than I could have ever imagined in spite of the fact that we began to feel as though we were building the pyramids one grain of sand at a time. Somehow, we managed to integrate each of the wish list components. We stood back to admire our work as proud as if we had just completed the Taj Mahal. We only hoped that our chickens would be as happy with the coop as we were.
In the interest of not embarrassing myself, I should probably refrain from admitting that I injured myself during the last day of construction and ended the day by spending a few hours in the emergency room. Every nurse and doctor that was assigned to my case inquired as to how I had sustained my injury. I explained to them that I had been working on our chicken coop. I waited for them to wrinkle their noses and question the validity of my story.
What I experienced was exactly the opposite. They all had stories to share about friends or co-workers who had chickens. One of them pointed out a nurse sitting at the nurse’s station that had just started keeping chickens last spring. I breathed a sigh of relief. They had believed that I was indeed a chicken farmer and now I had the emergency room bill to prove it.